Unpredictable me wins one

Published 4:24 pm Friday, March 30, 2018

When television was in its infancy, daytime programming was quite limited. There were only a few channels, sponsored by what came to be referred to as the “major networks.” Those guys, and I mean that literally, had really done their marketing homework and nailed the demographics of the available audience to very specific categories at precise times of the day.  

Advertising dollars were sought and show topics were scheduled, now that I can see it from a distance, for the very logical monetary benefit of all concerned behind the camera.

My memory of daytime television during the early period is possibly a bit skewed because I wasn’t home, I was a kid and off doing the kid thing. My mom didn’t watch much either. But, as I grew up and left home, I remember venturing into the world of daytime TV options when I would be home sick and there was nothing else to do when feeling miserable.

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A few observations have stayed with me. People spent a lot of time in hospitals.Story lines revolved an amazing amount of time around being in, working in, visiting someone in or talking about all of that in a hospital corridor or at the nurse’s station. No concerns for HIPPA there.

I don’t recall much energy was spent on going to school, grocery shopping, doing laundry, helping with homework, gardening or talking about any of those topics. The houses were always clean, orderly and immaculately decorated in the latest styles. The characters seemed well fed and groomed, never having made the effort to be so. Nobody had pets roaming underfoot.

The women seemed to wear a lot of sparkly outfits. Story lines crept along at a glacial pace.

Fast forward to 24-hour television in the era of who knows how many stations. I like options as much as the next person, but when it takes a catalogue, multiple remotes and more than 30 seconds to find the show I really do want to watch, I think we are over the line. At least I am.

One of my favorite shows of the regular TV lineup began its tenure on Sunday evenings  at a reasonable hour. I could almost guarantee I would be home and not fast asleep to catch each episode. One thing after another occurs during a regular season to delay the regular start time of a prime time show on Sunday evening with football, basketball, golf and the like. Most often, those delays were just an inconvenience or perhaps even a help, depending on where I was.

But then, the demographics, or whatever rules the airwaves these days, pushed the start time of my show to 10 p.m. OK, through the wonders of modern technology, you can record a show and watch later at your convenience, at a reasonable hour. You can set the magic device to start recording at the appointed time and there you have it.

Except when the program is delayed by said football, basketball or golf event.

I settled in one evening this week to catch up on my show. What? That isn’t it. That’s the thing before it recording in my time slot. Just about that moment, a little pop up on the bottom of the screen informs me that my show would begin at 10:35. That means that there would be 25 minutes of my show time in the one hour window of recording we had set. Yeah, I know, there are probably ways I can fix that, but it’s too late now.

In the world of marketing demographics, I don’t count. My shopping patterns would never move a retailer to spend a penny trying to influence me to make a single purchase, or watch a TV show. I am dispensable and, therefore, keeping my show at a regular, reasonable hour is not relevant in the grand scheme of, say, making money.

In the infancy of commercial television, predictability was the name of the game. Choices were limited in so many ways and it was easier to pigeonhole the daytime schedule accordingly. Questions of demographics were asked, and answered, by a select few entities residing in the high rises of Madison Avenue. Choices were laid out and decisions made as to who, what, when and where the audience was at exactly every minute of the commercial day.

If a show was scheduled to air at 2 Monday through Friday, it would air at exactly that time and the devoted audience could count on it. The daily routines were settled, TV’s tuned to the channel and the theme music played. If there was a variation in the schedule, there were bigger problems at hand, such as a national crisis preempting regularly scheduled programming.

Truth be told, I’m thinking there are more of me today than not. Just consider the vast array of options available at any time of the day or night. Consider the impact of all the options available at your fingertips on the remote to your “smart” TV (once you figure it all out). A viewer can watch any show, most any time and you can fast forward through all those pesky commercials which cost someone millions to get you to hear their message which you are now ignoring.

And there are Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime … A little patience on the part of the consumer and you can get the whole season of your favorite show, uninterrupted, and catch up on past episodes you missed. No wondering what happened to so and so last week. The archives of numerous sources offer up flashes to the past which can become addicting. Did we really wear our hair like that?  Were people talking about that in 1980?

So, actually, we, the non-predictable finally win. We were there all along. The way I see it, we finally forced the guys in the high rises to catch up to us. Go ahead, make all the ads you want, run them for 20 minutes scattered throughout the hour. I have a button on my remote to take care of that. Or, I will watch the whole season this summer when the dreamy, cheerful, and snowy ad for the Christmas gifting of your spiffy new car are magically wiped from the episodes on Netflix.

By then, I won’t even remember what football, basketball or golf event was played on any day.

I gloat. Unpredictable me wins one as the commercially unpredictable citizen.